1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

What's the point/purpose of fantasy races? Should I bother having them?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Peregrine, Jul 20, 2017.

  1. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,489
    1,540
    163
    I had something like this in my 'other world' - a city-state of warriors, 'blessed' with immense size (over a few generations) by their deities (whose priests imposed a 'special diet.') These giants, numbering into the thousands, embarked on a campaign of conquest. But leadership squabbles, lack of access to the 'special diet,' and genetic issues pretty much ended that. Now, they exist as isolated villages and enclaves scattered over a wide area.
     
  2. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    82
    27
    18
    Reading this again (sans wine) this is actually a very interesting discussion that touches in many ways at the heart of "traditional" fantasy vs some of the more modern works that have become popular - Abercrombie, Brett, Sanderson, Martin, Lawrence

    Are we more likely to believe in the abilities of Fantasy races and thus accept the new reality that writers are trying to deliver, or is the grittier human only real-world (sometimes post apocalyptic) more valid?

    Are the writers of "traditional" fantasy lazier because they rely on standards with a little bit of tweaking, compared to the history building and exposition that human only writers have to put in to make the abilities of their "races" more believable?

    I think I will leave that out there.
     
  3. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

    147
    19
    18
    Fantasy can be gritty with fantasy races, although not with creatures such as cat-people, mermaids and centaurs.

    Nevermind, what physical/inherent/mental/biological abilities or advantages could the troll "race" have?

    My trolls are not better at magic than other "races", please something other than magic.
     
  4. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    82
    27
    18
    Indeed they can be, I was trying (somewhat lazily) to to distinguish between standards using sweeping generalisations.

     
  5. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    413
    214
    43
    I would hazard the guess that "grittier" is more a style of writing or perspective on setting than it is anything to do with specific kinds of people. Why couldn't werecats or merfolk be in a "gritty" fantasy?

    Could be anything, of course. In the World there are a couple kinds of "trollish" folks. Yttuun, while in appearance look like classic D&D type Ettins, two-headed club-wielding giants, they really are dab hands with weaving (possibly even spindle magic) and animal husbandry. Also, they are natural poets and tonguecrafters.

    Another "trollish" kind are the Turghun (a kind of mixed-breed race). Having a strong Orcish ancestry, they are natural warriors and trackers. But they shine brightest when given a spade, a watering tin and a small shed at the back of the garden, for they turn out to be rather gifted gardeners and tinkerers.
     
  6. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    82
    27
    18
    I did post an answer previously, but it appears to have gone for moderation. Not sure why though.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,266
    3,645
    413
    They could be, of course. Whether writing or a world is "gritty" is completely independent of such factors.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,876
    1,972
    163
    I haven't read through the whole thread, so I might be repeating some of what others have said.

    Weirdly, I was listening to some old Writing Excuses podcasts yesterday that I have on my iPhone, and one of those asked exactly the same question you asked. Their general answer was because it was fun, fantastic, the sort of thing people coming to fantasy or sci-fi like to see. Except, Sanderson commented that he makes a conscious effort to not include many fantasy races, if any; but, he saw this as a possible deficiency in his work, something to maybe work on.

    Really, it just comes down to what you want to do, and why.

    I think fictional races offer some opportunities to explore humans better. Culture clashes--in-group and out-group things--and various other psychological and cultural differences. You can do this simply with different tribes and nations of humans, of course. But adding the other races might accentuate the differences. Consider the way sci-fi has done this with extraterrestrial beings. The unknown factors can play havoc with human worldviews. But also, sometimes it's the discovery of similarity between races that is used to reveal something about us, life, the universe, and everything, heh.
     
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,396
    1,468
    163
    I think the answer can be found with Tolkien. Dwarves and elves aren't randomly there for the hell of it. They are part of the world's creation myth. If they fit your mythology, run with it, if they don't then nix them.

    Unless the market you're aiming for are elf and dwarf lovers! In that case, make them fit. There's nothing wrong with serving this audience, it's big, and we're in the entertainment business. So, entertain.

    In my world there is a wild array of intelligent species, but the stories are human-centric, some races will probably never show up in the books. Some will go extinct along the timeline. The dwarf-like people are humans, but something of an alternate evolution, the distinction is their affinity to earth magic. Interbreeding with normal humans would diminish this ability, so they remain fairly xenophobic in their mountains and foothills. All the peoples of the world are the result of alternate evolutionary Earths with magic kicked in, not that they or the reader has a clue about this, and so they all fit the mythology.

    And yes, despite some cute and fuzzies, the world and stories are gritty to dark... but like life, they go all over the place too.
     
  10. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    91
    28
    Tough skin that is harder to cut/pierce (on a level akin to leather armor or stronger) is a pretty common trait of troll-type creatures in fantasy.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,266
    3,645
    413
    As an aside:

    Would be interesting to see a challenge for gritty/grimdark fantasy using traditional fantasy tropes and races that might not appear to lend themselves to grittiness. What do you guys think?

    Looking at the ones mentioned above:

    1. Cat-people: cats are predatory animals. Turning a story about cat people into a gritty, violent, and downright nasty story doesn't seem to be much of a stretch;

    2. Mermaids: these creatures are physical abominations that imitate human beauty and use the promise of sex to lure people to horrible deaths beneath the waves. Forget gritty fantasy, you could write a straight up horror story about these.

    3. Centaurs: powerful creature. Tribal/herd societies. You don't have to run far with that to get to a particularly brutal race of creatures that no one would want to meet.

    Would make for an interesting challenge, I think. Maybe there could be a prize.
     
    Simpson17866, FifthView and Nimue like this.
  12. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    547
    235
    43
    Yeah, we turned our one-time greatest predator into our best friend because it was the only animal that could sort of keep up with us in terms of endurance. I'm gonna go ahead and say humans are just fine in terms of physical ability. Which brings me to the point. Why not make humans the endurance race if you have multiple races? Rather than being the generalist base type, why not give 'em the advantage we've had in the real world since we realised that walking upright was cooler than doing so on all fours?
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,954
    970
    113
    Try some Poul Anderson, especially The Broken Sword. Also Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight duology. The Wizard Knight utilizes a basically Norse cosmology. Anything is possible in fantasy as long as you set your imagination free.


    To me, the purpose of having fantasy races is the Sense of Wonder they contribute to. People have been imagining supernatural races ever since storytelling was a thing (which is basically since language was invented). Sentient creatures that are not human are one of those things that almost universally sparks the imagination and creates awe. If you don't personally feel wonder and excitement at the thought of fantasy races, then it's perfectly fine to leave them out. Fantasy doesn't require them. But if you do, it would be silly to leave them out. There's so much storytelling potential when humanity can be compared and contrasted with other sentient beings with different natures.
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,876
    1,972
    163
    There are actually modern stories coming out of some areas in Africa about real mermaids in rivers doing this sort of thing. They aren't using sex to lure, but lurk under the waters and grab children and other smallish bodied adults under the water to kill them. I happened upon some of these stories a few months ago. I think one was about the waters near a dam, and another was about workers creating a dam. Killer mermaids.

    On a side note....I think that some people do associate grimdark, gritty fantasy with low fantasy; maybe this is just because that's how a lot of it has been written, not that this needs to be the way it's always written.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,559
    4,520
    313
    Peregrin asked how to make dwarves special. In the descriptions in that post I notice all the characteristics mentioned are physical. I suggest looking beyond the physical to psychology, sociology, even culture.

    Someone mentioned, for example, their trolls are short-tempered, even unstable. How are your dwarves to be around? Are they dour and grim. My dwarves are great ones for rules and ritual and tradition. They do have their fun, but it tends to be organized and orchestrated rather than spontaneous. This sets up a story opportunity for the dwarf who yearns to break out from his carefully regulated life. Moreover, elves are highly individualistic. They look upon dwarves with baffled contempt. They simply do not understand dwarves and dismiss them out of hand. In turn, dwarves regard elves with something like horror. That independence feels like chaos. Oddly enough, dwarves do better with wagoneer elves, who at least have something like a clan structure ("clan and canton" is a foundational notion among dwarves).

    That said, there is also room for variation among dwarves. Lots of variation. But in the end, dwarves are clannish. If on their own, they seek out their own. When they build towns, it's for their own kind. They don't exclude outsiders, but neither do they do much to welcome them. This behavior sets a common baseline for dwarves wherever they are.

    That's enough, I think, to make the point. The physical differences can be relevant (e.g., tough skin might make them more reckless in battle), but physical traits alone will not be determinant. How do your dwarves live? How do they get along with others? What is their history? As you add layers, your dwarves will start to come alive.
     
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,266
    3,645
    413
    Those sound like interesting stories. I'll have to look for them.

    Gritty fantasy does seem to be mostly human-centered, low fantasy (setting aside the Warhammer setting, whence the term grimdark comes I believe). But yes, it could be written to incorporate the trappings of high fantasy, many different races and creatures, etc.
     
  17. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,489
    1,540
    163
    That pretty much sums up the rachasa (cat-people) in my worlds. In one story, a character has nightmares about his times in the (roman style) legions. They were dug in and ready for the cat warriors, outnumbering them four or five to one - and were still almost wiped out. In another story, cat-warriors (as part of a larger force) leaped across a twenty meter chasm to take a fortified city (not all made the jump).

    On the other hand, individual bands do pay friendly visits to cities and fiefs of other races.

    Not mermaids specifically, but there are lots of vaguely humanoid aquatic abominations in the mythology. The Russian version is especially terrifying.
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,266
    3,645
    413
    Yes. I have a short story involving a Rusalka. Not nice :)
     
  19. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    91
    28
    BTW, I don't know about centaurs not belonging in gritty fantasy considering Nessus in the original mythology already tried to rape Heracles' wife and then tricked her into causing his death... which is pretty gritty. ;)
     
  20. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    341
    121
    43

    Humans are physically the weakest of the great apes by far. A chimpanzee tore a woman's face off and tore off her hands. That was on Oprah. A bear killed a man by decapitating him with one swipe. That was described on Ray Mears' bushcraft show. Individual humans only do well in fantasy when writers make him quasi superheroes like Paolini did with Roran. Realistically ain't no human general leading from the front. Especially not a King. In terms of endurance, we're good in the real world, but when humans go up against fantasy creatures in general, humans really have to pick their battles and stay in their league to avoid being ROFLstomped.http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-QdLxF3BjEPQ/VcoDoJhmLJI/AAAAAAAA3Gg/uia6juCi6Kc/s640/bloodthirster.PNG

    Because when you start giving humans superhuman abilities like magic etc, you aren't writing humans anymore, you're just writing another fantasy race with the human label.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
    Simpson17866 likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page